Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 13,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Sex Between Soft Covers
Her gaze came back to his. For a moment she saw
a question in the depths of his eyes. Then his head dipped and his
mouth captured hers in a searing kiss. An ageless, timeless
of man to woman. A fire-hot, molten revival of life. A circling,
tsunami of need pouring from one to the other and back in a ceaseless
wave of desire, passion, rapture.
— Shirley Hailstock, `More Than Gold’
Extra-marital romance for workers comes in all shapes
and sizes. It can be as short and sweet as a parking lot kiss or as
lavish as a thinly disguised team-building week at a four-star
resort. Yet for thousands of women, some men — and even a
of couples — romance comes wrapped between soft covers for an
"A great read with a guaranteed happy ending is the perfect
for these uncertain times," writes Linda Gill, publisher of
multicultural romance novels. "Romance offers hope at just the
right time." And Plainsboro writer Shirley Hailstock couldn’t
Hailstock is the enterprising author of 12 romances featuring smart,
professional — and beautiful — African-American characters.
Her latest title, "His 1-800-WIFE," from Arabesque Books,
is soon to be followed in August by "Family Affair." The
contributor to the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction Issue, including the 1997
debut issue which saw her romantic short story, "Remember Me,"
her rising celebrity has brought her to the pages of the Philadelphia
Inquirer and the New York Times.
In November Hailstock became president-elect of the Romance Writers
of America, a national organization of 8,400 members. She is past
president of the group’s New Jersey Chapter that brings together 75
of its most active members at monthly meetings at the Holiday Inn,
Jamesburg. The organization reports that romance generated $1.37
in sales in 2000.
At home on a flowered chintz sofa, dressed in a simple rose-colored
sweater set and black slacks, Shirley Hailstock radiates good humor.
With natural good looks that belie her status as the mother of two
young adults, she is a woman whose conversation bubbles over into
laughter at the slightest encouragement.
She says that although it’s true that romance readers are guaranteed
happy endings, this doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of conflict —
and extra-marital sex — along the way.
"My characters don’t spend a lot of time getting beauty
says Hailstock. "For one thing, they’re too busy" — often
dodging bullets and booby traps set by international assassins or
running a restaurant — "and their beauty comes naturally!"
In her suspense romance "More Than Gold," Hailstock tells
the story of Morgan Kirkwood, a gritty professional woman in her early
30s who grew up on the streets. A former Olympic gold medal gymnast,
she’s still fit and capable on the balance beam. But 12 years after
Morgan performed an act of valor for her country while competing in
Seoul, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a serious but
dashing CIA agent, Jack Temple. Sustained by the memory of their
kiss 12 year ago, the 30-something couple is ready for more than
Can a simple kiss be so memorable, we ask the author.
"Absolutely! Isn’t it always?," she replies with enthusiasm.
"A romance is a relationship story and it’s a developing
This is one man, one woman. They don’t sleep around. They don’t have
sex with more than one partner in the books." She says her
frequent and heated tumbles between the sheets (although these tumbles
also take place in SUVs and at the remote campsite where the couple
are dodging criminals and assassins), is part of a growing
between two characters, which is a committed one by the end of the
"I do want to stress that these characters are learning about
each other," she says, "learning to trust each other, learning
what love is about. Even if there’s some other external problem that’s
going on, at the basis of a romance is the romance."
"And I think when they actually do get to the sex act in the story
— I mean sometimes the foreplay has been going on forever and
it’s like `It’s time!’ — then that’s a commitment and there’s
no going back at that point. And I think that’s why you can have the
sex act in the book, because the characters change. They become
people from who they were pages before, and they have to go
"So if a developing relationship doesn’t call for sex, then it
shouldn’t be in the book. We don’t have characters who just have sex
for sex’s sake. And we don’t have rape either," she says.
Unlike her fictional heroines who tend to live in luxurious
some bedecked with fresh flowers, home is a functional space for
and her children, Ashleigh and Christopher Coles, ages 18 and 17.
Each teenager will graduate from West Windsor-Plainsboro high schools
It’s not all satin and roses for Hailstock. Divorced for 16 years,
there’s not a lot of room in Hailstock’s life for dating and romance
these days. "The real first time I fell in love I was in
she says, " — it was fun, but it was very hard to get over.
I could have spent the rest of my life with him, but it didn’t
In addition to her busy writing career, she is employed as manager
of sales systems for Bracco Diagnostics Inc.
Dominating her living space is Hailstock’s piano and her extensive
collection of albums — including lots of ’60s favorites. A woman
of no small ambition, whose youthful goal was to join the space
Hailstock learned piano as an adult and is working toward the day
she can play Gershwin’s "Fascinating’ Rhythm" like a pro.
"People have asked me whether my life is as exciting as the
in my novels, and I tell them, `Oh absolutely!’ I fly helicopters,
and I hang from tall buildings — it’s just one exciting rush after
another,’" she says with lighthearted irony. "It isn’t quite
like that, because you do have to write. And writing takes a lot of
energy and a lot of time. So a lot of my life is sitting in a chair
and doing the work. And I maintain another job, so the time to write
is precious and short."
Hailstock was introduced to the romance novel by a roommate at Howard
University who littered their dorm room with romance novels. The first
time she sat down and read one cover-to-cover, she became a romance
enthusiast. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that Hailstock made the
transition from reader to writer. She completed her first novel on
"I was on the subway with a friend in New York, and she asked
me what I was reading, and I showed her my book, and I said, `I could
do this,’" she recounts. "And she said, `I dare you.’ So I
told her `All right, I’ll go home, I’ll write it this weekend.
"That was a really stupid comment," Hailstock continues.
thought it was going to be easy to write, but it was hard, very very
hard to write. But I started, and I kept going, and it took me a
That book was called "Ice Maiden" and it remains unpublished.
"I wrote it longhand on yellow paper, because I didn’t have a
decent typewriter. Then I bought a Selectric typewriter, but half
the book was already written on yellow paper and the other half was
typed. And I wasn’t a very good typist. So then I had to type the
beginning, and then I had to re-type the end, because the page count
Hailstock’s fourth completed manuscript was the first she sold
she has since sold her third), "but the first two have never sold
and they never will," she says lightheartedly — "they
"Whispers of Love," a suspense romance, was the book that
brought Hailstock into print and the suspense genre has become
of a trademark for her. Published in 1994, the book is in its fourth
printing and has a sales record comparable to an Oprah Winfrey
— some 50,000 copies. It was optioned but never made into a film.
And since "Whispers of Love," there’s been no looking back
for Hailstock. She has released one, two, or three titles each year
The second oldest of seven children, Hailstock’s parents came from
South Carolina and the family moved first to Washington, D.C., and
then, when she was 8, to Buffalo, New York. When she was 10, her
died, and she had plenty of responsibility for four younger sisters
and a younger brother. Her father, who remarried twice, worked as
a crane operator in a steel mill.
An avid reader as a girl, Hailstock remembers devouring series of
teen dating novels, but she never read a Nancy Drew mystery, never
heard of Laura Ingalls, and she never read "Harriet the Spy,"
all perennial favorites of her colleagues in the Romance Writers of
"Then in high school I went through my `12-pound books,’"
she says with a hearty laugh " — they had to weight 12 pounds
in order for me to read them. I read `Exodus,’ I read everything that
Leon Uris wrote, I read every word of James Michener’s `Hawaii’ —
and I didn’t skip the part about the island forming. In high school
we also had to read `Moby Dick,’ and I read every word of that, too
— I didn’t skip the part about the whales!"
As a young adult, an influential early novel was Stephen King’s,
Stand." "It’s a definite good versus evil book," she says
with relish. "And it’s one of those things that taught me that
no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have to take a stand.
You’re going to have to be on one side of an issue or the other side,
you’re not going to be able to stay in the middle."
In high school, her chemistry teacher was also a mentor. "I really
enjoyed chemistry, it was one of my very favorite subjects —
was not my favorite subject, chemistry was. So when I went to college
I thought I’d study chemistry because I really wanted to join the
Hailstock wrote for her high school newspaper and year book, and wrote
original plays for school assemblies — "but that wasn’t
that was fun!" she says, with laughter. She stayed with chemistry
in college, earning her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Howard
University in Washington, D.C.
"I thought I’d get out of college and get a job working for NASA
or a chemical company, but it was 1970 — a really bad time to
graduate. Downsizing wasn’t a word then, but we had freezes on
all the airlines were in trouble, there were people with PhDs driving
taxi cabs. I couldn’t find a job, so I went back to school in
and got a degree in accounting.
She spent more than 20 years in accounting and, after moving to New
Jersey in 1975, earned an MBA in chemical marketing from Fairleigh
Hailstock has written straight, historical, and suspense
romances but it’s for the latter she’s best known. "Romantic
tend to be very heavily plotted, very strong books, and I think that’s
why people remember them more. I love the suspense, it adds so much
to the story," she says. "I like creating and plotting. The
writing is much more interesting than the actual plotting, but I don’t
get to do the writing unless I know how the plot works!"
For her book "More Than Gold," Hailstock says her conflicted
danger-prone lovers, Morgan Kirkwood and Jack Temple, "just popped
up." "In fact," she says with surprise, "Morgan popped
up first, and then I needed a guy for her who was as strong as she
was — she was so strong. So I had to go get Jack. And he just
showed up one day in my head."
Morgan Kirkwood derives her strength from teen years when she was
homeless on the streets of D.C. "I’ve never known anyone like
her," says the author. "But I know some kind of experience
you have that’s extremely hard — you’ll never forget. So Morgan
would never forget being on the street."
Readers who know Hailstock and her family are amused to discover that
in "More Than Gold" two powerful characters share her
names: CIA director Brian Ashleigh and FBI director Clarence
— "and I gave them equal jobs!" she says with pride.
Hailstock says her readers come from all walks of life, but all share
a sense of loyalty to their favorite writer. She receives letters
all the time, and she also knows there are six states in the U.S.
from which she has never had any fan mail.
"After a book comes out, you get a lot of mail very quickly, but
I always get at least a letter a week," she says. Many share a
"First of all, they always want to know about the other characters
in the book. Then they want to know who would I cast in the movie.
Some ask, `When are you going to make a movie of this book’ —
as if I had $10 million lying around for a movie!"
"They tell you a lot about their life stories — and about
the men in their lives. And it isn’t always the best. I mean the
of the books are a lot larger than life. So someone will write, `This
is the guy I want, but the guy I have, there’s nothing wrong with
Do couples share the books? Not often, she reports. "One time
I did get a letter from a woman who said her husband read one of my
books because he wanted to know what so fascinating to her that she
just kept reading."
Hailstock still finds time for her own pleasure reading, favoring
Dean Koontz, Clive Custler, James Patterson, and Sandra Brown. "In
romance, Anne Stewart is a favorite of mine," she says. Although
she doesn’t particularly like literary fiction, she’s impressed by
the number of new readers brought into the fold by the Oprah Winfrey
"Oprah had done wonders, absolute wonders," says Hailstock,
bringing out her Romance Writers of America marketing acumen. "But
I don’t think Oprah has done anything for romance at all. It was
fine before her, and since she came out with her book club, our market
share has gone up."
"I think the people who are reading books Oprah recommends are
people who may not have been reading before, and now they are. But
the people who were reading romances, they may read an Oprah book
now, but it’s not going to stop them reading romances."
The Oprah Book Club press runs of 450,000 copies caused a sensation
in literary publishing, whereas most romance titles have an initial
print run of 400,000. Hailstock also notes that while Oprah has the
power to make a single title a best-seller, that author will not see
comparable sales for her future books.
"But a lot of Oprah’s books have terrible endings. I’ve read a
lot of them, because I keep hoping that I’ll get a good one. I don’t
think a book has to have a happy ending, but I would like it to have
some kind of lesson learned. And a lot of those people in the books
don’t learn a lesson. These characters have no inner thoughts like:
`No matter what has happened to me, the world’s not going to beat
me, I’m going to win.’ They just don’t have anything like that."
So with workers feeling uneasy and uncertain about the new adversities
of these past months, romance may be just the right prescription.
For a cheap date, why not curl up with a Hailstock story — and
— Nicole Plett
Auditorium, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5781. Romance Writer’s
Workshop. Free. On the web: www.geocities.com/shailstock. Monday,
February 18, 7 p.m.
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